Sometimes not being able to find what you want is the perfect reason to start up a business. Trish Chapallaz, co-owner of Solar 4 RVs, explains how she is growing a business around a market need.
My Business: Why did you start your own business?
Trish Chapallaz: In 2013 we bought a new 21-foot caravan that we wanted to fit out with a quality solar power system; however, there were no companies offering integrated, customised, lightweight solutions for off-grid power for caravans and other RVs.
Realising a need in the marketplace, we conducted research and produced a business plan to set up our company and register the trading name Solar 4 RVs.
Product testing followed and we launched in March 2014 at a Victorian caravan and camping show, and [began] operating online to the public from our home.
MB: How has your business evolved since its inception?
TC: In the first six months of operation, Solar 4 RVs experienced phenomenal growth and was approached by 20 businesses nationally that wanted to utilise our advice and design service and purchase our products. The following year we had over 70 businesses purchasing our products, as well as the public, and registered the additional trading name ‘Solar 4 Boats’ as 50 per cent of our business was the marine sector, particularly cruisers and yachts.
Now, two years since our modest launch, we have over 90 [B2B customers] and recently moved into a warehouse, showroom and offices. We also registered our third trading name ‘Solar 4 Industry’ to reflect the many trade, commercial and industrial projects we are involved with.
MB: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?
TC: Issues such as weight, sloping roofs, heat transfer from solar panels, and batteries being idle for months at a time make choices complex, and no data was readily available to make informed decisions. Solar 4 RVs needed to accumulate a wealth of intelligence through exploration and investigation.
We also needed to design unique products not available, such as a solar panel combiner circuit card that connects multiple panels in parallel, with a blocking diode to each panel to prevent shaded panels sinking current from other panels.
MB: What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
TC: Two things stand out. One is moving into premises with office space, a showroom and a warehouse, as it has enabled us to be more efficient and cohesive in our day-to-day operations.
The other is a commitment to maintaining high standards of products and service. We operate with integrity and maintain quality in the products we supply, which generates trust that has resulted in a continually growing B2B clientele.
MB: What has it meant for you to be recognised as Sustainability Initiative of the Year at the My Business Awards in 2015?
TC: We have made a huge investment into the business and receiving recognition for our achievements to date has been extremely gratifying and motivating. We have promoted our win through social media and on our website, and because the My Business Awards have many well-known sponsors it has enhanced our credibility. It was an absolute thrill to win.
MB: Share with us some of your bigger successes.
TC: Solar 4 RVs is the only company in Australia specialising exclusively in solar power solutions for mobile applications, including commercial, marine and recreational vehicles, offering a unique advice and design service. We have been acknowledged as a game-changer for off-grid solar, tackling the most unusual requests.
MB: Do you have a business motto?
TC: Quality products and professional advice.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.